Links of boudin in a New Orleans butcher shop. Photo credit: Tom Head November 2012

Links of boudin in a New Orleans butcher shop. Photo credit: Tom Head November 2012

Mouths begin to water and stomachs growl if anyone even whispers the word ‘boudin’ around a Cajun. Say “boudin” around a non-Cajun and nine times out of ten you will get a strange face followed by the question “What is that?” While Texas is mostly known for its Tex-Mex, BBQ, and Spanish influenced cowboy style cuisine; Cajun and Creole food traditions contribute to Texan food heritage. Cajun and Creole restaurants and festivals can be found throughout the state. The Cajun culinary tradition began in the eastern region of Texas bordering Louisiana. French exiles from Acadia settled in Louisiana and Texas around 1770. By 1850, “600 Franco-Louisianans” lived in east Texas.[1] After the Civil War, poor economic conditions in Louisiana caused Cajuns and Creoles to migrate west. The railroad and rice industries provided jobs for these migrants. In the twentieth century, the discovery of oil and job opportunities generated by hurricane restoration efforts along Texas’s coastline forever merged the French descendants with the Spanish, Germans, Africans, and Native Americans of Texas.[2]

These former Acadians brought their unique music and food with them. One commonly enjoyed Cajun pork delicacy is the aforementioned boudin. Its formal name is boudin blanc. But don’t let the name deceive you if you’ve eaten a sausage named boudin blanc in France. The two foods are drastically different from one another. Before I get into the story of Cajun boudin, let me provide some insight into the history of pork consumption in the United States.

Spanish explorers like Hernando de Soto and Christopher Columbus first introduced pigs in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries to the western hemisphere. Prior to this time, swine would not be found in North America. Pigs that escaped from the Spanish colonies began the wild breeds we now call razorbacks or wild boar in the Gulf Coast region. Anywhere Europeans traveled, pigs went with them. German immigrants brought additional breeds of swine to the New World in the nineteenth century. Pork has always been a regular part of the European and American diet; however, the commercial pork industry did not begin in the United States until the late nineteenth century. According to the Texas Pork Producers Association website, the Texas pork trade formally established itself in 1889. The main reasons pork did not become a commercialized industry prior to the Civil War are the challenges with preserving pork and a lack of refrigeration. Neither Texas nor Louisiana environmentally lend to any forms of early cool to cold food storage. Both states have blistering heat in the summers and fairly warm winters.[3]

Chef John D. Folse opines, “pork was…central to the Cajun tradition of community butchering or la boucherie.” The cooler temperatures of autumn and winter provided the perfect climate for La Boucherie days. All members of the community (including young children) would participate in the slaughter, cleaning, and cooking of swine. The various cutlets of meat would be preserved, smoked, fried, salted or added to freshly made stews. Every part of the pig would be used in food preparation or consumed including organs, fat, and blood. At the end of the day, everyone would sit down to a communal dinner enjoying some of the products their labor produced. La Boucharies are still performed in Cajun areas on holidays or over long weekends.[4]

French boudin blanc. The culinary ancestor to Cajun boudin.

Boudin was one of the three types of sausage prepared during boucharies. The European ancestor of this dish is France’s boudin blanc. The French sausage is made from ground “chicken, veal, or pork mixed with milk, cognac and spices.”[5] The Acadians adapted the recipe to the ingredients available in the New World. Initially, boudin was made with pork, pork liver, onions, parsley, and seasoning. Dr. Carriker, a US historian at the University of Lafayette, found in his research on Cajun cuisine that boudin evolved further in the late 1800s due to the growing rice industry. Butchers and cooks enhanced the popular food with the addition of rice to the original ingredients. This nineteenth century version is mainly what Cajuns or visitors to Louisiana and Texas eat today.[6]

Steamed boudin  Photo Credit: Kathleen DesOrmeaux July 2015

Steamed boudin
Photo Credit: Kathleen DesOrmeaux July 2015

Traditionally, boudin is steamed or slow cooked. Once it is ready, the casing is cut open and only the inside contents are eaten with bread. My favorite way to eat it is right out of the steamer and spread across slices of fresh baguette. Other ways of preparing boudin include grilling, smoking, frying, using it as a stuffing, or mixing it into other dishes such as dirty rice or jambalaya. I have even seen it and its famous cousin Andouille sausage used as a coating on Gulf Coast fish fillets. In Texas, you can find boudin as a popular filling in kolaches. Buc-ee’s Gas Station, a Texas cultural experience in itself, has the best boudin kolaches around.[7]

Boudin Balls just out of the oven. Photo Credit: Kathleen DesOrmeaux July 2016

Boudin Balls just out of the oven. Photo Credit: Kathleen DesOrmeaux July 2016

This simple food item shares the story of French immigrants from the Brittany, Normandy, and Poitou regions of France journeying to the unknown lands of the western hemisphere. Conflict and war would send these Acadian refugees south into what would become the United States. The changes in ingredients display the incorporation of Native American, African and Spanish cultures into that of the French. After the Germans arrived on the Gulf Coast, their skill with sausage making and butchering further popularized and refined the tradition of Boucharie Days broadening access to pork products. Boudin continues the tradition of bringing people together for a friendly chat and snack in the afternoons, at family gatherings, and food festivals.

If pork isn’t a food you eat, the good news is you can still enjoy boudin. Pork free versions include crawfish, alligator, chicken, venison, rabbit, duck, and shrimp. These can be found at many markets and specialty butchers. If you are traveling in Louisiana or Texas and are in need of some help finding boudin near you or narrowing down what boudin dish to try, check out http://boudinlink.com.


Footnotes:

[1] “Cajun Texans | Texas Almanac,” accessed July 19, 2016, http://texasalmanac.com/topics/culture/cajun-texans.

[2] Ibid.

[3] “Pork Facts – Texas Pork Producers Association,” accessed July 18, 2016, http://texaspork.org/pork-facts/; “The Encyclopedia of Cajun and Creole Cuisine,” 472, accessed July 18, 2016, http://www.jfolse.com/encyclopedia.htm.

[4] “The Encyclopedia of Cajun and Creole Cuisine,” 472–475.

[5] “Southern Boudin Trail – Southern Foodways Alliance,” accessed July 18, 2016, https://www.southernfoodways.org/oral-history/southern-boudin-trail/.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.; John D. Folse, The Evolution of Cajun and Creole Cuisine, 1st edition (Donaldsonville, La.: Chef John Folse & Co, 1989).

References:

“Cajun Texans | Texas Almanac.” Accessed July 19, 2016. http://texasalmanac.com/topics/culture/cajun-texans.

Folse, John D. The Evolution of Cajun and Creole Cuisine. 1st edition. Donaldsonville, La.: Chef John Folse & Co, 1989.

“Pork Facts – Texas Pork Producers Association.” Accessed July 18, 2016. http://texaspork.org/pork-facts/.

“Southern Boudin Trail – Southern Foodways Alliance.” Accessed July 18, 2016. https://www.southernfoodways.org/oral-history/southern-boudin-trail/.

“The Encyclopedia of Cajun and Creole Cuisine.” Accessed July 18, 2016. http://www.jfolse.com/encyclopedia.htm.

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  Mouths begin to water and stomachs growl if anyone even whispers the word ‘boudin’ around a Cajun. Say “boudin” around a non-Cajun and nine times out of ten you will get a strange face followed by the question “What is that?” While Texas is mostly known for its Tex-Mex,...